Kids and candy: Don't be a Halloween Grinch

By Rabia Mughal, contributing editor

October 30, 2007 -- Pumpkin patches, a nip in the air, goblins, ghosts, ghouls -- and lots of candy. Yup, it's that time of year again. And around the country, dentists want to know how they can avoid becoming the Grinch of Halloween.

It's a classic dilemma. On the one hand, sugar contributes to the damage that dentists spend their lives fixing. On the other hand, what's Halloween without trick or treating? In coping with this apparently no-win situation, dentists fall into three camps.

First, there's damage control. "Ideally kids should not eat any candy, but it's Halloween," said Emily Wu, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist in San Francisco. She counsels patients and their parents to focus on sugar-free candy, to avoid sticky sweets that linger on the teeth, and to brush, brush, and brush some more.

Irfan Atcha, D.D.S., who practices in Dyer, IN, offers another approach to mitigation that is catching on among dentists nationwide. He invites children to come in between 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. the day after Halloween with their bulging loot bags. The kids will receive $1 for every pound of candy they turn in. There's only one catch -- no bites.

"It is my campaign against cavities and tooth decay amongst the kids here in Indiana," stated Dr. Atcha in an e-mail to "The candy that we buy from the kids will be shipped oversees to the troops who are fighting for our security, and it will bring a bit of cheer and sweetness to their day."

The second alternative is to direct the celebration way from the mouth. "A treat does not have to be candy. Give them coloring books, sharpies, temporary tattoos," said Mary Hayes, D.D.S., who practices in Chicago and is a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. "I have children who are high caries risk and get tooth decay at the drop of a hat. This way they don't feel deprived." She also recommends rationing the candy, and giving it to the children as dessert.

And the third approach? Capitulation may be too strong a word. Let's call it .... discretion. "In our culture Halloween is a fun day -- one day out of the year," argued Helaine Smith, D.M.D., from Boston. "Cavities are a complex disease process that does not happen from eating a little bit of Halloween candy."

As for handing out sugar-free treats she has only four words: "It's never gonna happen."

Copyright © 2007


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